How To Name Your Advertising Agency: Part Two

8 pitfalls to watch for when naming your baby   BabyCenterThis is Part Two of the two part series on how advertising agencies name themselves. Other than the gyrations that agencies constantly go through with how to design and redesign their website; what and how they name themselves is one of their most important branding decisions. Part One is right here.

Just a reminder… I worked for three ad agencies. Two were “founder” agencies: Dancer Fitzgerald Sample (remember “Where’s the beef?”) and Saatchi & Saatchi (which bought Dancer) and the other was my very own Portland agency with its “current usage” name: Citrus. Or, as one of our creative directors thought was critical to our success, citrus, with a lower case “c.’

The Naming Process

Yes, there is a process to naming. I believe that selecting a name should be one of the most important elements of your new advertising agency’s marketing plan (a new name also works for agency’s that need a facelift and repositioning.) And, importantly, this process deserves your team’s best thinking and the time to ensure that you have selected the most powerful name possible. Most of us thought hard about what name to give our kids or the letters on our vanity license plates. Your company deserves this as well.

Objectives & Positioning.

You cannot begin to name your brand without establishing a clear brand positioning and business objectives which in the case of ad agencies sometimes just means sounding cool. In San Francisco alone, agency names span Muh-Tay-Zik Hof-fer’s self-love (OK, maybe its just name-play) to Argonaut’s promise of brand voyage (I assume) to Engine Company 1 (yes, you guessed it) to Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners and Goodby Silverstein & Partners’ authenticity (for old times sake) to BarrettSF and its hope for BarrettNY — I suspect.

I don’t have a favorite agency name. But, thinking strategically, 72andSunny comes close to a home run with its evocation of warmth, smiles and a really nice terrace. In this case, 72andSunny nails one of the most important attributes that clients look for in a new relationship — chemistry. I’ll have a chilled Rose with that Cleo, please.


What is your advertising agency’s personally? Are your smart, friendly, quirky, sincere, a quant jock, strategic or give good lunch? Maybe you are about where you live like London Advertising and its delivery of “London creative excellence” to any client anywhere in the world. Smart positioning and smart name. yes, own the whole city, why not.

Competitive Review.

OK, this is a duh. A competitive review should examine your competitor’s brand positionings and their brand names. Depending who you talk to there are like 4,000 agencies in the USA. Sounding like the competition won’t help you stand out.

Two agencies in town named Bread and Butter won’t work. Hmmm, Saatchi & Saatchi and M&C Saatchi might not work that well either. But then, M&C wanted to piss off Saatchi and they delivered on their objective.

For help in finding existing agency names, take a look at my global Pinterest Agency Directory and at Agency Compile’s list.

Brand Name Development.

Once you have your positioning and a deep understanding of your competition its time to review the type of names that will work hard for you. Are these neologisms, current usage words, hybrids, acronyms or founder names?

Are there application factors that must be considered? Today, we have to think about URL’s, potential signage issues, pronunciation and spelling issues and global applications. SMAK! works anywhere.

To put it mildly, naming isn’t an easy process. Frankly, committees don’t work well here. You’ll need a decision maker (even if you do consumer research to help direct the decision.)

Trademark Review.

Performing a trademark review should be conducted early rather than later. Don’t fall in love with an agency name you can’t own (unless you have Apple-sized cojones.) There are three steps to reviewing trademarks. For initial review, I Google and Bing it, then its on to the United States Patent and Trademark Office trademark database. Use of this database is a good start but should not be considered conclusive.

I also use the services of a trademark attorney. The final step is to trademark your new brand name. Believe me, get your trademark right because if you don’t it will eventually bite you hard.

The URL.

Ah, the URL. Ever spend hours on GoDaddy searching for usable URL’s? Impossible! So, be prepared to wind up with a hybrid like or That is unless you like a neologism like Mooseylvania.

That’s the good news. The bad? Agency names like Walrus, Naked, North, Steak and Farm, even if you can get them, do not make for easy Google searches. And, they might be gone on Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and on and on.


AgencyThumbNail.aspx motherOnce I determine a set of potential brand names I pair these with the brand positioning and often a brand platform for each name to help evaluate the creative rationale and relative value of each name.

The names can be tested via qualitative (one-on-one or focus group methodology) or quantitative techniques including online surveys. Research? really? It sounds a bit pedantic right? It didn’t to Paul Malmstrom of Mother.

“The name ‘Mother’ basically came out of a focus group in the general public,” co-founder Paul Malmstrom told AdFreak. “Sixteen different tests were done around a randomly generated set of words, and all groups (except one) settled for ‘Mother’ as a top contender. The tests showed ‘Mother’ had pretty positive associations, ranging from ‘Nurturing,’ ‘Familiar’ to ‘Don’t eat with your mouth open.’ To the founders this seemed to be great values to base the agency on. Words not rated as high were, for example, ‘Wallet,’ ‘Meager’ and ‘Clogs,’ but a close runner-up was (inexplicably) the word ‘Wienerschnitzel.’ “

A Final Thought

Brand names do not work in an isolated environment. A brilliant brand name will not overcome the downside of a poor product or service; it will not be enough to surmount an ineffective marketing plan or inadequate budget. The powerful brand name must work in a holistic marketing environment to reach its potential.

That said, the powerful brand name will, without question, add energy to your marketing program, will make you stand out from the crowd, will make you memorable (very important in a world where word-of-mouth marketing is a key agency objective) and the right name could add real value to your company’s net worth.

“A” Is A Good Place To Start.

OK. One more final thought. A few years ago, I founded a company named ActiveBuddy – here is our start-up launch video. The name came from our entry into the Instant Messaging category with a service that let people use natural language to talk to computers using IM.  The name made sense – remember how active your buddy list was? That said, I witnessed a great extra benefit of ActiveBuddy when I attended Internet trade shows and realized that we were always at the top of the attendee, exhibitor or speaker list. Our name started with an “A”. While this realization was a “duh” moment, it made me fully understand the Power of the name AAA Plumbing within the context of directories and how important it is is to pay attention to every objective. Remember, gyro won’t go down easy in Athens.


Me? I Went With The Founder’s Name = Peter Levitan & Co.

I thought of using SEO / Google friendly keywords like combinations of advertising, agency, ad, business development, new business, positioning, sales, pitching, presentations… but, I figured why not grow my own brand (and my brand is getting seen… this website was visited  2,977 times in October and I have over 800 connections on LinkedIn) plus my mommy and daddy named me.

This Is The Time When You Decide To Call Peter Levitan.

PL-Logo-emailYo, agency owner. If you are about to name or rename your agency, I suggest making sure that you have the right positioning (by the way, read my “How To Position An Advertising Agency.“)

Starting with a random name before you’ve established your brand positioning is like the small business owners who think their first marketing decision is — what logo to have.

So, if you need a brand position for your agency that will actually drive new business; a full=on business development plan based on my 25 plus years of winning new business or just a kick in the ass…

Email or call me.

Once you have a name, you’ll need to win new accounts. That’s why I wrote… The Levitan Pitch. Buy This Book. Win More Pitches.

A quote from an early reader:

“Okay, am only on page 23 and am laughing out loud and was so engrossed I was 5 minutes late dialing into a conference call…”


Amazon has copies just for you.


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